National Post readers enjoy anguished English
At the end of my article last November whose theme was malaprops, I invited National Post readers to share with me some of their favourite howlers. As a result, I was pleasantly inundated with over 200 emails and I'd like to share some of the extremely amusing material I received.
It would seem that virtually everyone has some loose-lipped friend or relative who inadvertently makes them chuckle. Susan Yervick wrote about her uncle who once told her “about the depression his mother suffered following the birth of his brother.....She suffered from 'post-mortem depression'!” Christopher Servos related two gems. One was a friend who said he had to take a rest as he was suffering from “heat frustration” the other one involved a woman delivering a eulogy for her father-in-law where she said that the man loved the grandchildren and lived “precariously through them.” Jamie Rowland said that while travelling with his wife in Italy he heard her blurt out, “I like the calamari but I don't like the testicles.”
Naturally, children are prone to these types of errors when learning new words and echoing Jamie Rowland's ballsy contribution, Caroline Solis told me that when her son was quite young and sharing a bath with his sister he suddenly shrieked. When Caroline inquired as to the nature of the problem, the lad explained, “She stepped on my tentacles!” Kate Ramsay shared this gem by her six year old granddaughter who came home from school and told her mom she needed $2 to “help the kids that were hit by the big salami” (tsunami). Anne Meredith owned up that as a child she once came home from Sunday school and said she now knew the “Twenty-third Possum.”
As one might imagine, second language speakers of English are prone to these types of mistakes and Vittorino Dal Cengio related this beaut: “A couple of years ago the director in charge of our Italian Veterans Association's members funerals was discussing the last details with the officiating priest. While talking about the selection of the pall bearers our director promptly stated: 'I have six polar bears ready!' ” As if the atmosphere at funerals was not glacial enough already.
Not surprisingly, medical terms are a fertile source for a malaproprian miner. Pat O. tells of of a lady describing the labour of her daughter who stated “the labour was taking so long, at one point the doctor had to go in and seduce her.” Phil Hooker wrote about a “woman who told her friend that the doctor reported her husband had died of a massive internal fart (infarction).” Hooker added, “'I laughed for several minutes. It sounded explosively painful.” Dr Barry Wright itemized several “casual comments made by patients in his “41-year Family Practice of Medicine.” Included were, “'Would you exaspirate this cyst for me?” (aspirate), “'I had my veins litigated” (ligated), and “How's my systolic and apostolic blood pressure?” (diastolic).
If you're like me, you enjoy it when our elected leaders screw up in public and readers were also helpful in outing some pols. Julian S. related the story that when Jack Horner was a minister in Trudeau's cabinet he was given a speech to read by his civil servants which included the word “panacea.” Not being familiar with the word, he rendered it as “pancreas.” Julian was told that “for some time afterwards civil servants would get a chuckle at meetings by saying, in respect to proposals, 'this is not a pancreas, you know.' ” Davis Dunsmuir says that in the 1990s Phil Gagliardi, a British Columbia welfare minister, stated during a radio talk show program that “his ministry might foot the bill for birth control pills for unwed mothers but only 'when there were extemporaneous circumstances.' ”
Some teachers have archives of student bloopers and more often than one would expect, the errors are committed by those in university. Stephen Price shared the story told him by a university professor about a student who handed in a final paper after spending the entire term listening to the tale of Hannibal leading the Carthaginians against the Roman Empire, The student's term paper was titled “'The Plight of the Carthage Indians.”
Many comedians mine malaprops for material and often the seeming half-witted statement proves to be quite witty. Several readers chastized me for not including their favourite malaproprian comedians such as Norm Crosby and Don Harron's portrayal of Charlie Farquhson in my article, but space constraints did not allow me this luxury. Some readers, however, did cite comedians I mentioned but material I hadn't included in my article. Barry Bowman reminded me that in All in the Family, Archie Bunker referred to “yarmulkes” as “Yamahas,” and about putting on a “menstrual show.” Two readers supplied quips by Emily Litella, played by Gilda Radner on Saturday Night Live. Stephen Elioff gave me “What's all this talk I hear about a presidential erection?”, and Bruce Laplaunte's favourite Radnerism was “ I can't understand why people are so concerned with peanuts in Regina.”
I'm sorry that I wasn't able to include other worthy contributions. Keep those letters coming.